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Irresistible You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 19th June 2017
Irresistible You by Kate MeaderIrresistible You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 14th 2017
Pages: 300
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four-stars

Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…

‘Irresistible You’ has an irresistible setup: a team down in the dumps, a bastard ex-owner, his three daughters who are estranged half-sisters, a near-hostile meeting between a new owner (who’s really been screwed over by her father) and an unwilling trade in hockey, with sparks and secret deals all around.

Kate Meader’s stylish, confident writing shows up so clearly here, and it’s easy to get swept along by the plot and her characters. It had me wanting to know how Remy Du Pre and Harper Chase would get from ‘enemies’ to lovers so to speak, and I loved the tension from the very beginning and the inevitable pull they felt towards each other in Remy’s stomping ground in the exotic (and some say magical) New Orleans.

The progression did lag in the middle for me as Remy and Harper dwelled too much on the potential consequences of carrying on as a couple. I didn’t exactly like Harper’s slowness and unwillingness to fight for Remy (who never gave up on her) just as the latter’s good humour and laid-back candidness won me over. Yet Harper does alright in the end and their happy-for-now is most likely just the start of what’s going to be a longer journey in a bigger story arc that I suspect, will involve the entire team as time goes on.

The uneven pacing aside, hockey isn’t my sport, so the terminology is lost on me, but Meader does make it more about the pairing than the actual sport and the management of it as Remy/Harper’s relationship goes from grudging respect to something more. I loved how well-crafted both of them really are (here, the tiny details make the cake) as Meader does brilliant work enunciating their insecurities and their motivations while leaving the potential for a deadbeat team to reach the playoffs. With Harper’s sisters wait in the wings for their own HEAs, that’s a hook and a teaser I can’t say no to.

four-stars

Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th June 2017
Too Close to Call by Tessa BaileyToo Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3.5
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on June 13th 2017
Pages: 136
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four-stars

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage.

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring.

Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.

Kyler burst onto the scene in Brooks’s book and immediately I knew there was a story there that I wanted to read. ‘Too Close to Call’ is one that got me, not just because of the devotion of this soon-to-be football star, but his single-mindedness about wanting to get the love of his life back once and for all, despite Bree having ended it all 4 years ago.

With the tons of manwhores in college sports peppering the books these days in search of commitment-free hookups, Kyler stands out like some shining gem in the mud because he could never let Bree go. I did sort of wish that he’d tried to get on with it given the way she’d so callously broke things off with the intention of never seeing him again, just as I wished Bree had more gumption and chutzpah to fight for their relationship the way he did. That she’d stayed on the fence the whole time up until the end made me wonder about if she thought Kyler less important than her supposed duty to the family coupled with the flimsy excuse that she was only holding him back.

My only complaint really is how Tessa Bailey manages to make every hero of hers into an alpha, dirty-talking male though…to the point where they become indistinguishable in the way they burn up the sheets. Somehow the couple in question lose their distinct identities when they finally have sex (it inevitably ends up with a woman panting and begging and a man talking her ear off) only to regain these after the heights of orgasm are reached. Kyler/Bree in this case, could be Elliott/Peggy or even Ginger/Derek or anyone else and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, which is a far cry from the earnest, determined college student I first encountered in ‘Too Hard to Forget’.

Yet ‘Too Close to Call’ is short, rather satisfying read nonetheless, perhaps only because I thought Kyler deserved what he searched for all these years. At least it has the straightforward sort of clarity that I couldn’t quite get from this series from the very start, and that’s good enough for me.

four-stars

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?

five-stars

The Bet by Elizabeth Hayley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 29th May 2017
The Bet by Elizabeth HayleyThe Bet by Elizabeth Hayley
Series: The Players #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 254
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two-stars

Jace "the Jet" Benning is a legend on the football field. And off. He has the arm, the charm, and the reputation of being the hottest player in the league.
Too bad Dr. Alessandra Mastrazacoma is not impressed.
With a busy schedule and a bruised heart, Alessandra doesn't have time to date, but when she is lured into making a friendly bet with her best friend, she finds herself agreeing to go out with the next guy that asks...and to give him three shots, three dates, before pulling the plug.
Jace also has a friendly wager with his friends going, and it involves making sure the slightly klutzy, but very pretty, doctor will be his date to the biggest night in sports. With two wagers and two hearts on the line, will Aly and Jace win or are they betting to lose?

‘The Bet’ is mostly an angst-free, light-hearted read of an accidental meeting between a doctor and a famous player (whom the former doesn’t know at all) which progresses mostly because of a bet between friends.

 

Alessandra Mastrazacoma (now that’s a mouthful) and Jace Benning are an unlikely pair and the whole story feels like a journey of the both of them finding common ground, apart from nailing sexual compatibility in the bedroom. Neither of them really pretend to be who they aren’t; Alessandra is outrightly blunt and in unapologetic for being so while Jace still struggles with his poor, smalltown roots but isn’t quite afraid to put everything on the line for her.

The ride isn’t fully of peaks and valleys – and this will probably appeal to readers who are tired of adult histrionics better confined to the high-school classroom – but is instead, one that catalogues each and every step of Aly and Jace getting into their relationship proper. The ending is a predictably neat wrap-up after some grovelling on Jace’s part, a HEA that pushes Aly and Jace into a happily committed relationship after that small hiccup.

As light-hearted and easy a read ‘The Bet’ is however, I found myself mostly uninspired by this pairing, which is probably a just a case of my bucking the trend again. I thought their chemistry rather non-existent as the move straight into the bedroom very early on eschewed any tension that could have made the anticipation more worth it. And as well and good the sex scenes may be written, I was bored (and skimmed those scenes) because I couldn’t find anything compelling about this couple. Consequently, it was difficult to follow the progression of Aly/Jace’s relationship as there just didn’t seem to be anything else to look forward to, except for the bet that Jace made with his buddies and the fallout that you know would come from it at the very end.

 

two-stars

Smart Tass by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 19th April 2017
Smart Tass by Mimi Jean PamfiloffSmart Tass by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: OHellNo #1
on April 11th 2017
Pages: 157
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three-stars

He’s the hot quarterback all the girls want. She’s the smart girl he loves to pick on.And now that they’re all grown up, things are about to get geekin’ ugly…
My name is Tass. I’m smart, I’m driven, and I am determined not to let prankster Hunter Johnson continue raining on my parade. When we were little, he’d pull my hair and call me names. When we were teenagers, he’d throw food and tease me for being a flat-chested virgin.
But now that we’ve ended up at the same college, he’s out of his hot head if he thinks he can keep messing with my life. It’s like he’s fixated on me or something. Well, guess what, Mr. Amazefootball? I’m not that geeky little girl anymore and you do not screw with a smart woman.
So what’s my plan?
It’s definitely wild, and he’s about to find out…

I’d initially assumed that ‘Smart Tass’ was in fact, a good ol’ enemies-to-lovers thing in college, between two people who’d known each other the whole time but hadn’t gotten along. But it’s so much more than that.

Written wholly in Tass’s POV though, I went from hating Hunter to warming to him, just as she did. Objectively speaking, there is really something quite smart about the way the narrative is set up that got me going. There’s the power of the unreliable narrator here (even though I loved the smart-ass, cocky, biased and very distinctive nerdy but alpha girl voice of Tass), given the very skewed perspective that makes us see what we’re supposed to see and assume before it gets turned on its head and the age-old lesson of not believing everything as it looks.

I wasn’t comfortable about how much of commodification of Tass’s virginity there was by the frat boys, yet it’s also waved proudly about like it’s nothing to be ashamed of from Tass’s side, which was quite a contradiction for me. Yet that was part of the conflict that I could sniff a mile away, which was resolved in a mere few pages at the end which stuttered to a stop in the form of a cliffhanger. I guess I wanted to see more than just a kiss-and-make-up scene or at least some more of a resolute ending before the next book kicks in…after all, there was barely enough of Tass and Hunter on good terms, as much as the antagonism was fun. It was over before I knew it and without an epilogue or anything, ‘Smart Tass’ felt more incomplete than it was a standalone.

three-stars

All You Need by Lorelei James

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 5th April 2017
All You Need by Lorelei JamesAll You Need by Lorelei James
Series: Need You #3
Published by Berkley Books on April 4th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

PR agent Annika Lund can spin any disaster into a win. But revamping the reputation of a notorious Swedish hockey player will take every trick in her arsenal, especially when his agent insists that convincing everyone he’s no longer a playboy is top priority. And that it requires a sham relationship—with Annika playing the part of loving girlfriend.
On fire in the rink and in the bedroom, Axl Hammerquist couldn’t care less about being anyone’s golden boy. So when his agent forces him to play nice with a new publicist, he takes satisfaction in being as much of a pain as possible. But the more time he spends getting to know Annika, the more Axl starts to think that being Mr. Nice Guy might be worth it if it gets him the girl...

This started off well enough, judging from the blurb that made me want to dive in straight away. I took a chance on the humour that other reviews said the book was filled with—often laughter does overcome many narrative problems in my opinion—and thought it might be a sparkling example of an antagonistic relationship between a PR guru and a Swedish manwhore hockey player. Cue the puns and snark, throw in the prerequisite love/hate line and you’ve baited me. But it’ll take more than that though, for my attention not to wander when what follows thereafter goes somewhat awry with the sheer amount of details thrown in. Add the sudden influx of huge numbers of characters suddenly gracing the book and an elaborate scheme that involves some kind of family manipulation and I could barely keep up.

A lot of it the story is dialogue-driven, as we navigate the WAG scene and get around the politics of hockey while Annika and Axl slowly strip back the layers and get to know each other. This process however, involved conversations going off on tangents even though I knew they were meant to be ‘getting to know you better’ sessions and numerous instances of name-dropping particularly when the entire Lund family came into play so it really didn’t take too long before I felt very much like an outsider eavesdropping on every scene.

I couldn’t quite muster up enough interest in the way hockey was portrayed here, let alone the couple in question except for the way Annika/Axl danced around their attraction. But if their hostile, sparking first few interactions heated up my screen, it soon mellowed and faded into a smoother, more staid and ‘softer’ side of romantic attraction that diminished my pull to the both of them—because they suddenly began lacking that tension and chemistry that drew me initially to them.

Their path to a ‘proper’ relationship is simply sort of straightened out the moment they gave into their attraction, the predictability of the trope—Axl is suddenly now a reformed manwhore who finally understands why men stay monogamous while Annika finally sees the ’softer’ side of him—made me eventually lose interest. So all it really takes, as the story seemed to say, is the right woman (with some measure of determination, confidence yet can melt like butter when a man touches her) to set the womanising jock straight, despite what the media might make of them.

My inability to really cut my teeth in made the book difficult to continue but it’s clearly something that’s just me, judging from the other glowing reviews the book has gotten. Still, I skimmed and felt relieved when I got to the end.

two-stars

Pipe Dreams by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 3rd April 2017
Pipe Dreams by Sarina BowenPipe Dreams by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers #3
Published by Berkley Books on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Mike Beacon is a champion at defending the net, but off the ice, he’s not so lucky. A widower and a single father, he’s never forgotten Lauren Williams, the ex who gave him the best year of his life. When Lauren reappears in the Bruisers office during the playoffs, Beacon sees his chance to make things right.
Lauren hates that she’s forced to travel with the team she used to work for and the man who broke her heart. There’s still undeniable sexual tension running between her and Mike, but she won’t go down that road again. She’s focused on her plans for the future—she doesn’t need a man to make her dreams of motherhood come true.
Lauren plays her best defensive game, but she’s no match for the dark-eyed goalie. When the field of play moves to Florida, things heat up on the beach.
One of Mike’s biggest fans doesn’t approve—his teenage daughter. But a true competitor knows not to waste the perfect shot at love.

A stiff, distant crusty crone was how I thought of Lauren Williams in Sarina Bowen’s rather outstanding hockey series, but ‘Pipe Dreams’ has made me think differently about her. Once I got to know her story, it felt as though she was entitled to her bitterness and the hanging dark cloud that followed her wherever she went. Mike Beacon, the goalie who shattered it all 2 years ago though, only learns the extent to which he’d hurt her when she returns to help the owner of the team, then goes all out to win her back. With a competitive spirit working overtime as he juggles the playoffs, success is his only option, though there’re still a few obstacles in the way of their HEA.

I read ‘Pipe Dreams’ once, then read through it again, unable to get enough of Mike’s and Lauren’s story. It’s a second-chance romance trope, and Bowen certainly crafts the story in a way that casts both characters in a very sympathetic light, explaining the circumstances that separated both Mike and Lauren in a manner that made it difficult to side with either one of them. As with most Sarina Bowen books, every time I think I’ve got the plot and conflict figured out, I always get surprised—and pleasantly so. Mike/Lauren do behave like the adults they are, navigating past hurts with the kind of realism I expected, but above all, their story was solidly integrated into the inner workings of the team’s activities and business that made ‘Pipe Dreams’ feel like a complete story with no unfinished business. (except perhaps, for the constant teases of Nate/Becca that don’t seem to be in any sequel anywhere)

I did get lost in the details of the hockey itself but the Brooklyn Bruisers series is nevertheless one of a kind—and this is coming from someone who lives in an area where hockey is barely given a blink. It was gratifying to dive into this book, knowing that in this series, Bowen doesn’t make out the entire team of hockey players to be foaming-in-the-mouth, rabid men with testosterone levels so high that they need constant sex with any woman they can hook up with but as individual characters, distinct personalities that could on their own, actually get their own story.

My only hope? That she’ll continue this series for many books to come.

four-stars
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